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COM 173: Public Speaking

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Great Speeches Series - Find thousands of famous speeches in one place!


Lou Gehrig from Great Speeches Series Malcolm X from Great Speeches Series

Michelle Obama 2016 Democratic National Convention Address

Historical Speech Analysis Paper

Public Speaking

Historical Speech Analysis Paper

Choose one of the iconic speeches from the attached list and write a paper analyzing its use of the five canons of rhetoric – invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery - which we discussed in class. A copy of the Powerpoint used to discuss the canons is available on Blackboard under Course Content, Powerpoints.

Use the canons to organize the body of the paper. Start off with a paragraph introducing the speech and then go into the canons.

  1. Canon of Invention: What is the topic of the speech, who is the audience and what is the setting? Do some research to learn the context that the speech took place within. For example, what was going on at the time the speech was given and what was its purpose overall? Was it to inform or persuade? What led this speaker to give that speech at that time? Be specific
  2. Canon of Disposition: Was the speech organized? Could you identify the main points? How were the ideas connected? Again, be specific.
  3. Canon of Style: Address the style of the speech. Was the language casual or formal? Was it accessible to those we imagine were in the audience? Did the speaker use any literary techniques like repetition or metaphor to emphasize their message. Give one example.
  4. Canon of Memory: How does it appear the speaker learned the speech? Was it memorized, manuscript, extemporaneous or impromptu? Was that appropriate given the topic, the audience, the setting and the time period?
  5. Canon of Delivery: How was the speaker’s delivery? Did the speaker use everything at their disposal to deliver the speech like facial expressions and hand gestures? Do you think this was a successful speech? If so, why? If not, why not?

End the paper with a solid conclusion.

Your goal is not to tell me what was in the speech – so and so said this - but to analyze how what is in the speech is, or is not, an example of the use of the 5 canons of rhetoric. For example, MLK used the extemporaneous delivery technique in his “I Have a Dream” speech. This was appropriate because he was able to maintain some eye contact with the large audience and make use of hand gestures. Certainly, you may quote the speech, but only to use that quote as an example of the use of one of the canons.

Type up your analysis in 3-5 pages, double-spaced. At the top of your first page list your name, the name of the speaker and the title of the speech. A cover page is not necessary. You must use at least 3 sources for this assignment. More is fine, less is not. The speech itself – in any format, like print and video – is one source. You need at least two others, like a newspaper or scholarly article, book or other source that addresses the speech in some way. Cite your sources using MLA style, both within the paper and at the end on a Works Cited page. (See the MCC library home page for an MLA guide).

This assignment is due on the day given by the professor during class. You must submit it on Blackboard and turn in a hard copy in class. No handwritten or late assignments will be accepted.

You must get a draft of your paper seen by a tutor at the Academic Support Center (ASC). ASC tutors will not proofread your paper only! Instead, your tutor will discuss larger ideas regarding your writing to help you write the strongest paper possible. See the Tutoring Form on Blackboard for more details.

The confirmation of the tutoring session needs to be sent to the instructor by the paper due date. It does not need to be turned in with the hard copy of the paper or submitted on Blackboard.

Below is the list of speeches from which you may choose for this assignment.

  1. Nelson Mandela “I am the First Accused”

  1. Martin Luther King Jr. 

“I have been to the Mountaintop”

  1. John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address

  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Pearl Harbor:

  1. Barack Obama

“A More Perfect Union”

Speech to the Democratic National Committee 2004 and transcript

  1. Steve Jobs Commencement Address

  1. Ronald Reagan

“Address to Nation on the Challenger”

  1. Hillary Rodham Clinton

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

  1. Michelle  Obama

2016 Democratic National Convention Address


*Contact your instructor or consult your course's Blackboard shell for guidelines for the Historic Speech Analysis Paper.

Recommended Databases for Historical Speech Analysis Paper


Photography of Abraham Lincoln

  • American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank 
    Comprehensive collection of famous speeches, including audio and video where available.
  • Famous Speeches in History
  • Great Speeches
  • Inspirational and Historical Speeches
  • Presidential Speeches
  • Social Justice and Human Rights Speeches
    Selected famous speeches on social justice topics, including racism, sexism, war and genocide.
  • Marist PollThe Marist Institute for Public Opinion, home of the Marist Poll, is a survey research center at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. The Marist Poll regularly measures public opinion at the local, state, and national level.
  • Gallup Poll - The Gallup Poll is one of the nation’s largest polling organizations. It actually provides a mix of polling and analysis of statistics from other sources.  Gallup also tracks a number of indexes that they have created for specific topics.